Node (physics)

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A standing wave. The red dots are the wave nodes Standing wave.gif
A standing wave. The red dots are the wave nodes

A node is a point along a standing wave where the wave has minimum amplitude. For instance, in a vibrating guitar string, the ends of the string are nodes. By changing the position of the end node through frets, the guitarist changes the effective length of the vibrating string and thereby the note played. The opposite of a node is an anti-node, a point where the amplitude of the standing wave is a maximum. These occur midway between the nodes. [1]

Standing wave wave that remains in a constant position

In physics, a standing wave, also known as a stationary wave, is a wave which oscillates in time but whose peak amplitude profile does not move in space. The peak amplitude of the wave oscillations at any point in space is constant with time, and the oscillations at different points throughout the wave are in phase. The locations at which the amplitude is minimum are called nodes, and the locations where the amplitude is maximum are called antinodes.

The amplitude of a periodic variable is a measure of its change over a single period. There are various definitions of amplitude, which are all functions of the magnitude of the difference between the variable's extreme values. In older texts the phase is sometimes called the amplitude.

Guitar fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that usually has six strings. It is typically played with both hands by strumming or plucking the strings with either a guitar pick or the finger(s)/fingernails of one hand, while simultaneously fretting with the fingers of the other hand. The sound of the vibrating strings is projected either acoustically, by means of the hollow chamber of the guitar, or through an electrical amplifier and a speaker.



Pattern of two waves' interference (from up to down). The point represents the node. Node.svg
Pattern of two waves' interference (from up to down). The point represents the node.

Standing waves result when two sinusoidal wave trains of the same frequency are moving in opposite directions in the same space and interfere with each other. [2] They occur when waves are reflected at a boundary, such as sound waves reflected from a wall or electromagnetic waves reflected from the end of a transmission line, and particularly when waves are confined in a resonator at resonance, bouncing back and forth between two boundaries, such as in an organ pipe or guitar string.

Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency, which emphasizes the contrast to spatial frequency and angular frequency. The period is the duration of time of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency. For example: if a newborn baby's heart beats at a frequency of 120 times a minute, its period—the time interval between beats—is half a second. Frequency is an important parameter used in science and engineering to specify the rate of oscillatory and vibratory phenomena, such as mechanical vibrations, audio signals (sound), radio waves, and light.

Transmission line specialized cable or other structure designed to carry alternating current of radio frequency

In radio-frequency engineering, a transmission line is a specialized cable or other structure designed to conduct alternating current of radio frequency, that is, currents with a frequency high enough that their wave nature must be taken into account. Transmission lines are used for purposes such as connecting radio transmitters and receivers with their antennas, distributing cable television signals, trunklines routing calls between telephone switching centres, computer network connections and high speed computer data buses.

Resonator device or system that exhibits resonance or resonant behavior, that is, it naturally oscillates at some frequencies, called its resonant frequencies, with greater amplitude than at others

A resonator is a device or system that exhibits resonance or resonant behavior, that is, it naturally oscillates at some frequencies, called its resonant frequencies, with greater amplitude than at others. The oscillations in a resonator can be either electromagnetic or mechanical. Resonators are used to either generate waves of specific frequencies or to select specific frequencies from a signal. Musical instruments use acoustic resonators that produce sound waves of specific tones. Another example is quartz crystals used in electronic devices such as radio transmitters and quartz watches to produce oscillations of very precise frequency.

In a standing wave the nodes are a series of locations at equally spaced intervals where the wave amplitude (motion) is zero (see animation above). At these points the two waves add with opposite phase and cancel each other out. They occur at intervals of half a wavelength (λ/2). Midway between each pair of nodes are locations where the amplitude is maximum. These are called the antinodes. At these points the two waves add with the same phase and reinforce each other.

Phase (waves) position of a point in time (an instant) on a waveform cycle

In physics and mathematics, the phase of a periodic function of some real variable is the relative value of that variable within the span of each full period.

Wavelength spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the waves shape repeats, and thus the inverse of the spatial frequency

In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is thus the inverse of the spatial frequency. Wavelength is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings and is a characteristic of both traveling waves and standing waves, as well as other spatial wave patterns. Wavelength is commonly designated by the Greek letter lambda (λ). The term wavelength is also sometimes applied to modulated waves, and to the sinusoidal envelopes of modulated waves or waves formed by interference of several sinusoids.

In cases where the two opposite wave trains are not the same amplitude, they do not cancel perfectly, so the amplitude of the standing wave at the nodes is not zero but merely a minimum. This occurs when the reflection at the boundary is imperfect. This is indicated by a finite standing wave ratio (SWR), the ratio of the amplitude of the wave at the antinode to the amplitude at the node.

In radio engineering and telecommunications, standing wave ratio (SWR) is a measure of impedance matching of loads to the characteristic impedance of a transmission line or waveguide. Impedance mismatches result in standing waves along the transmission line, and SWR is defined as the ratio of the partial standing wave's amplitude at an antinode (maximum) to the amplitude at a node (minimum) along the line.

In resonance of a two dimensional surface or membrane, such as a drumhead or vibrating metal plate, the nodes become nodal lines, lines on the surface where the surface is motionless, dividing the surface into separate regions vibrating with opposite phase. These can be made visible by sprinkling sand on the surface, and the intricate patterns of lines resulting are called Chladni figures.

Resonance phenomenon in which a vibrating system or external force drives another system to oscillate with greater amplitude at specific frequencies

In mechanical systems, resonance is a phenomenon that only occurs when the frequency at which a force is periodically applied is equal or nearly equal to one of the natural frequencies of the system on which it acts. This causes the system to oscillate with larger amplitude than when the force is applied at other frequencies.

Drumhead Membrane stretched over the ends of a drum

A drumhead or drum skin is a membrane stretched over one or both of the open ends of a drum. The drumhead is struck with sticks, mallets, or hands, so that it vibrates and the sound resonates through the drum.

In transmission lines a voltage node is a current antinode, and a voltage antinode is a current node.

Voltage difference in the electric potential between two points in space

Voltage, electric potential difference, electric pressure or electric tension is the difference in electric potential between two points. The difference in electric potential between two points in a static electric field is defined as the work needed per unit of charge to move a test charge between the two points. In the International System of Units, the derived unit for voltage is named volt. In SI units, work per unit charge is expressed as joules per coulomb, where 1 volt = 1 joule per 1 coulomb. The official SI definition for volt uses power and current, where 1 volt = 1 watt per 1 ampere. This definition is equivalent to the more commonly used 'joules per coulomb'. Voltage or electric potential difference is denoted symbolically by V, but more often simply as V, for instance in the context of Ohm's or Kirchhoff's circuit laws.

Electric current flow of electric charge

An electric current is the rate of flow of electric charge past a point or region. An electric current is said to exist when there is a net flow of electric charge through a region. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by electrons moving through a wire. It can also be carried by ions in an electrolyte, or by both ions and electrons such as in an ionized gas (plasma).

Nodes are the points of zero displacement, not the points where two constituent waves intersect.

Boundary conditions

Where the nodes occur in relation to the boundary reflecting the waves depends on the end conditions or boundary conditions. Although there are many types of end conditions, the ends of resonators are usually one of two types that cause total reflection:

0,  λ/2,  λ,  3λ/2,  2λ, ...
λ/4,  3λ/4,  5λ/4,  7λ/4, ...



A sound wave consists of alternating cycles of compression and expansion of the wave medium. During compression, the molecules of the medium are forced together, resulting in the increased pressure and density. During expansion the molecules are forced apart, resulting in the decreased pressure and density.

The number of nodes in a specified length is directly proportional to the frequency of the wave.

Occasionally on a guitar, violin, or other stringed instrument, nodes are used to create harmonics. When the finger is placed on top of the string at a certain point, but does not push the string all the way down to the fretboard, a third node is created (in addition to the bridge and nut) and a harmonic is sounded. During normal play when the frets are used, the harmonics are always present, although they are quieter. With the artificial node method, the overtone is louder and the fundamental tone is quieter. If the finger is placed at the midpoint of the string, the first overtone is heard, which is an octave above the fundamental note which would be played, had the harmonic not been sounded. When two additional nodes divide the string into thirds, this creates an octave and a perfect fifth (twelfth). When three additional nodes divide the string into quarters, this creates a double octave. When four additional nodes divide the string into fifths, this creates a double-octave and a major third (17th). The octave, major third and perfect fifth are the three notes present in a major chord.

The characteristic sound that allows the listener to identify a particular instrument is largely due to the relative magnitude of the harmonics created by the instrument.


In chemistry, quantum mechanical waves, or "orbitals", are used to describe the wave-like properties of electrons. Many of these quantum waves have nodes and antinodes as well. The number and position of these nodes and antinodes give rise to many of the properties of an atom or covalent bond. Atomic orbitals are classified according to the number of radial and angular nodes, while molecular orbitals are classified according to bonding character. Molecular orbitals with an antinode between nuclei are very stable, and are known as "bonding orbitals" which strengthen the bond. In contrast, molecular orbitals with a node between nuclei will not be stable due to electrostatic repulsion and are known as "anti-bonding orbitals" which weaken the bond. Another such quantum mechanical concept is the particle in a box where the number of nodes of the wavefunction can help determine the quantum energy statezero nodes corresponds to the ground state, one node corresponds to the 1st excited state, etc. In general, [3] If one arranges the eigenstates in the order of increasing energies, , the eigenfunctions likewise fall in the order of increasing number of nodes; the nth eigenfunction has n−1 nodes, between each of which the following eigenfunctions have at least one node.

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Harmonic series (music) sequence of sounds where the base frequency of each sound is an integer multiple of the lowest base frequency

A harmonic series is the sequence of sounds—pure tones, represented by sinusoidal waves—in which the frequency of each sound is an integer multiple of the fundamental, the lowest frequency.


A harmonic is any member of the harmonic series. The term is employed in various disciplines, including music, physics, acoustics, electronic power transmission, radio technology, and other fields. It is typically applied to repeating signals, such as sinusoidal waves. A harmonic of such a wave is a wave with a frequency that is a positive integer multiple of the frequency of the original wave, known as the fundamental frequency. The original wave is also called the 1st harmonic, the following harmonics are known as higher harmonics. As all harmonics are periodic at the fundamental frequency, the sum of harmonics is also periodic at that frequency. For example, if the fundamental frequency is 50 Hz, a common AC power supply frequency, the frequencies of the first three higher harmonics are 100 Hz, 150 Hz, 200 Hz and any addition of waves with these frequencies is periodic at 50 Hz.

An nth characteristic mode, for n > 1, will have nodes that are not vibrating. For example, the 3rd characteristic mode will have nodes at L and L, where L is the length of the string. In fact, each nth characteristic mode, for n not a multiple of 3, will not have nodes at these points. These other characteristic modes will be vibrating at the positions L and L. If the player gently touches one of these positions, then these other characteristic modes will be suppressed. The tonal harmonics from these other characteristic modes will then also be suppressed. Consequently, the tonal harmonics from the nth characteristic modes, where n is a multiple of 3, will be made relatively more prominent.

Sine wave Mathematical curve that describes a smooth repetitive oscillation; continuous wave

A sine wave or sinusoid is a mathematical curve that describes a smooth periodic oscillation. A sine wave is a continuous wave. It is named after the function sine, of which it is the graph. It occurs often in pure and applied mathematics, as well as physics, engineering, signal processing and many other fields. Its most basic form as a function of time (t) is:

Normal mode pattern of motion in which all parts of the system move sinusoidally with the same frequency and with a fixed phase relation

A normal mode of an oscillating system is a pattern of motion in which all parts of the system move sinusoidally with the same frequency and with a fixed phase relation. The free motion described by the normal modes takes place at the fixed frequencies. These fixed frequencies of the normal modes of a system are known as its natural frequencies or resonant frequencies. A physical object, such as a building, bridge, or molecule, has a set of normal modes and their natural frequencies that depend on its structure, materials and boundary conditions. When relating to music, normal modes of vibrating instruments are called "harmonics" or "overtones".

String vibration

A vibration in a string is a wave. Resonance causes a vibrating string to produce a sound with constant frequency, i.e. constant pitch. If the length or tension of the string is correctly adjusted, the sound produced is a musical tone. Vibrating strings are the basis of string instruments such as guitars, cellos, and pianos.

Musical acoustics or music acoustics is a branch of acoustics concerned with researching and describing the physics of music – how sounds are employed to make music. Examples of areas of study are the function of musical instruments, the human voice, computer analysis of melody, and in the clinical use of music in music therapy.

Flue pipe

A flue pipe is an organ pipe that produces sound through the vibration of air molecules, in the same manner as a recorder or a whistle. Air under pressure is driven down a flue and against a sharp lip called a Labium, causing the column of air in the pipe to resonate at a frequency determined by the pipe length. Thus, there are no moving parts in a flue pipe. This is in contrast to reed pipes, whose sound is driven by beating reeds, as in a clarinet. Flue pipes are common components of pipe organs.

Organ pipe musical instrument part

An organ pipe is a sound-producing element of the pipe organ that resonates at a specific pitch when pressurized air is driven through it. Each pipe is tuned to a specific note of the musical scale. A set of organ pipes of similar timbre comprising the complete scale is known as a rank; one or more ranks constitutes a stop.

Stretched tuning is a detail of musical tuning, applied to wire-stringed musical instruments, older, non-digital electric pianos, and some sample-based synthesizers based on these instruments, to accommodate the natural inharmonicity of their vibrating elements. In stretched tuning, two notes an octave apart, whose fundamental frequencies theoretically have an exact 2:1 ratio, are tuned slightly farther apart. "For a stretched tuning the octave is greater than a factor of 2; for a compressed tuning the octave is smaller than a factor of 2."

Lecher line

In electronics, a Lecher line or Lecher wires is a pair of parallel wires or rods that were used to measure the wavelength of radio waves, mainly at UHF and microwave frequencies. They form a short length of balanced transmission line. When attached to a source of radio-frequency power such as a radio transmitter, the radio waves form standing waves along their length. By sliding a conductive bar that bridges the two wires along their length, the length of the waves can be physically measured. Austrian physicist Ernst Lecher, improving on techniques used by Oliver Lodge and Heinrich Hertz, developed this method of measuring wavelength around 1888. Lecher lines were used as frequency measuring devices until frequency counters became available after World War 2. They were also used as components, often called "resonant stubs", in UHF and microwave radio equipment such as transmitters, radar sets, and television sets, serving as tank circuits, filters, and impedance-matching devices. They are used at frequencies between HF/VHF, where lumped components are used, and UHF/SHF, where resonant cavities are more practical.

Acoustic resonance phenomenon where acoustic systems amplify sound waves whose frequency matches one of its own natural frequencies of vibration (its resonance frequencies)

Acoustic resonance is a phenomenon where acoustic systems amplify sound waves whose frequency matches one of its own natural frequencies of vibration.

Kundts tube

Kundt's tube is an experimental acoustical apparatus invented in 1866 by German physicist August Kundt for the measurement of the speed of sound in a gas or a solid rod. The experiment is still taught today due to its ability to demonstrate longitudinal waves in a gas. It is used today only for demonstrating standing waves and acoustical forces.

String harmonic

A string harmonic is a string instrument technique which uses the nodes of natural harmonics of a musical string to produce high pitched tones of varying timbre and loudness. String harmonics are "high pitched tones, like a whistle's, are produced when the musician lightly touches certain points on a string." "A flute-like sound produced on a string instrument by lightly touching the string with the finger instead of pressing it down," against the fingerboard.

Acoustic streaming is a steady flow in a fluid driven by the absorption of high amplitude acoustic oscillations. This phenomenon can be observed near sound emitters, or in the standing waves within a Kundt's tube. It is the less-known opposite of sound generation by a flow.

Wind instrument class of musical instruments

A wind instrument is a musical instrument that contains some type of resonator, in which a column of air is set into vibration by the player blowing into a mouthpiece set at or near the end of the resonator. The pitch of the vibration is determined by the length of the tube and by manual modifications of the effective length of the vibrating column of air. In the case of some wind instruments, sound is produced by blowing through a reed; others require buzzing into a metal mouthpiece.


  1. Stanford, A. L.; Tanner, J. M. (2014). Physics for Students of Science and Engineering. Academic Press. p. 561. ISBN   148322029X.
  2. Feynman, Richard P.; Robert Leighton; Matthew Sands (1963). The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol.1. USA: Addison-Wesley. pp. ch.49. ISBN   0-201-02011-4.
  3. Albert Messiah, 1966. Quantum Mechanics (Vol. I), English translation from French by G. M. Temmer. North Holland, John Wiley & Sons. Cf. chpt. IV, section III. online Ch 3  §12